St. Augustine Considers Affordable Housing Plan

Creating affordable housing opportunities is an issue for communities across the country and St. Augustine is no different. But the city may have at least part of the solution on an 82-acre parcel currently used by the utilities department as a storage area for road building materials.

At a special City Commission meeting earlier this month, commissioners heard a consultant’s report on the feasibility of building at least 400 workforce housing units at 450 N. Holmes Boulevard. Jeff Huber with Brooks + Scarpa spoke about possible solutions and the results of a public charrette exercise held in March. A charrette is a type of collaborative planning process that engages interested parties to create a master plan. The term originated in France in the 19th century when students would out their final design projects in a cart or charrette at the end of the academic year.

“We think this is an incredible site and a key opportunity to look at how we are going to get more affordable housing in St. Johns County and St. Augustine in particular,” Huber said. “We were really honored to be asked to facilitate the charrette.”

Huber began his presentation outlining the overall goals of the study including creation of “an inclusionary housing development” that will serve “as a model for housing types and attendant lifestyles.”

Huber said in addition to the type of housing developed on the N. Holmes site, transportation and infrastructure needs also need to be considered, including making the area more bike- and pedestrian-friendly. As part of those considerations, he said finding the right kind of parking for the residents is a key.

“Formats for parking is an incredible opportunity where you can make or break a neighborhood,” he said. “We wanted to talk about a range of types” including center or perimeter lots, internal parking structures or something called the “Texas Doughnut” where the housing units surround the parking garage.

Commissioner Barbara Blonder said the charrette exercise was an important step in the process.

“Comments from the public are very important to us,” she said. “I definitely want to see some mixed-use because that goes to the walkability and bikeability and reduction of traffic. I think we have the opportunity to do a demonstration project here.”

Vice Mayor Roxanne Horvath said she, too, likes a mixed-use concept for the development.

“I think it works for us,” she said. “What I’d like to see is the greatest variety we can get.”

Mayor Nancy Sikes-Kline said there are still a lot of details to work out.

“I think our concerns we all share is how do we make sure there is a direct benefit to citizens of St. Augustine,” she said. “It’s their property, it’s about five miles from the city proper, the heart of the city. That’s going to be something we’re going to have to work really hard on.”

Assistant City Manager David Birchim, who was recently named city manager to replace the retiring John Regan, said city staff will incorporate feedback from commissioners for the final report, set to be released at a City Commission meeting June 26.

“We’ll just keep working on it,” he said. “We understand your priorities.”